WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump showcased his executive powers on the political stage Tuesday night, issuing a pardon and overseeing a naturalization ceremony during the second night of a Republican National Convention (RNC) that featured a norm-busting speech by the country’s top diplomat and a lineup of Trump family members.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo interrupted a diplomatic mission to Israel to praise Trump’s foreign policy, which often has been as unorthodox as Pompeo’s willingness to blur the line between partisan politics and U.S. diplomacy, a move that already has sparked a House ethics investigation.
First lady Melania Trump capped the evening with a deeply personal speech from the White House Rose Garden, a rare public outing for one of the most reclusive of White House spouses. Unlike most other speakers, she acknowledged the suffering many Americans have faced in the coronavirus pandemic, offering empathy that the president rarely shows.
“I know many people are anxious and some feel helpless. I want you to know you’re not alone,” she said, promising the administration would fight for vaccines and therapies.
She expressed sympathy for the victims and their families, and she promised that her husband — who she acknowledged was “not a traditional politician” — will not rest “until he has done all he can to take care of everyone impacted by this terrible pandemic.”
Four years ago at the Republican convention in Cleveland, Melania Trump’s RNC address was quickly found to have been plagiarized from Michelle Obama’s 2008 DNC address, an embarrassing error that she blamed — after two days of evasions and denials — on her speechwriter.
On Tuesday morning, an adviser to the first lady said in a television interview that Melania Trump wrote “every word” of this year’s speech herself.
Pompeo praised Trump’s success in destroying the Islamic State group caliphate, and bringing home U.S. hostages. But he overstated Trump’s incomplete efforts to broker a substantive trade deal with China and his stalled efforts to negotiate a nuclear-disarmament deal with North Korea.
Speaking from Jerusalem, Pompeo said America is “more secure, because President Trump has put his America First vision into action. It may not have made him popular in every foreign capital, but it has worked.”
Two of the president’s adult children, Eric and Tiffany Trump, echoed the grievance-laden remarks delivered a night earlier by Donald Trump Jr., and his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, who framed the election choice in stark terms and sought to rally the president’s political base.
“In the view of the radical Democrats, America is the source of the world’s problems,” Eric Trump said. “The Democrats want an America where your thoughts and opinions are censored when they do not align with their own.”
His passionate speech, however, was filled with false assertions: that Trump has brought peace to the Middle East and that former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, wants to “defund the police.” Biden has said the opposite.
Pam Bondi, a former attorney general in Florida, repeated unproven corruption allegations against Biden’s son, Hunter, for his work in Ukraine. It is an awkward issue because Trump was impeached last December for trying to pressure Ukraine’s president to investigate Biden’s role.
Like the RNC’s opening night, Tuesday’s speeches largely ignored many of the crises facing the country, including the COVID-19 pandemic that has upended American life and killed more than 178,000 Americans.
It presented, instead, a world in which problems are caused by a media that unfairly criticizes Trump and a Democratic Party that lets American cities run amok.
The president’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, referred to the pandemic — which is still killing 1,000 Americans a day — in the past tense, and he said economic recovery would come quickly, even with millions still unemployed.
Just two prominent Republican elected officials spoke Tuesday night, including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who lauded the president’s 2017 tax bill, his efforts on criminal justice and what Paul sees as a pulling back on foreign military engagements.
“I don’t always agree with him. But our occasional policy differences are far outweighed by our significant agreements,” Paul said.
In one of the few emotional moments of the night, Trump showed a video of himself signing a pardon for Jon Ponder, a man from Nevada who has founded an organization that helps prisoners reintegrate into society. “We live in a nation of second chances,” Ponder said, standing alongside Trump.
The setup for the night’s headliners featured a combination of staunch conservative activists and everyday Americans.
A lobster fisherman from Maine, a dairy farmer from Minnesota and a CEO of a Wisconsin steel company all described the president’s deregulation of environmental safeguards and actions on trade. Jason Joyce, the fisherman, said he didn’t back Trump four years ago, but he now praised his reversal of an Obama administration order that put thousands of square miles of ocean off-limits to commercial fishermen.
And a mayor from Minnesota’s Iron Range — a registered Democrat — offered another voice of support for the president’s stewardship of the economy, which polls indicate remains a Trump advantage over Biden.
“This is particularly hard for me to say … because I am a lifelong Democrat,” said Robert Vlaisavljevich, the mayor of Eveleth, Minnesota. “But for far too long, members of both parties allowed our country to be ripped off and taken advantage of, especially by China.”
Tiffany Trump, the president’s daughter, who graduated last year from Georgetown Law School, acknowledged the uncertainty recent college graduates now face.
“As a recent graduate, I can relate to so many of you who might be looking for a job,” she said. “My father built a thriving economy once, and believe me, he will do it again.”
The reliance on so many Trump family members reflects just how much the president’s personal political brand has subsumed not just the convention, but the GOP as a whole, upending decades of conservative orthodoxy in some cases.
The family’s support for the president may serve as a rebuttal to the Democrats’ portrayal last week of the party’s nominee, Biden, as an embodiment of empathy and decency, as well as a counterweight to recent unflattering portrayals of Trump by other family members.
Eric Trump’s wife, Lara Trump, will speak Wednesday, and his sister Ivanka will address the convention Thursday before the president delivers his acceptance speech from the South Lawn of the White House.
The convention’s outsized focus on the Trump family is just one unusual aspect of this year’s convention, which was largely forced online by the coronavirus.
Using the White House as a backdrop for convention speeches by the president and his wife flouts a long-standing American tradition, heretofore heeded by both parties, to not hold overtly political events at the residence of every president since John Adams in 1800.
With Pompeo’s speech from Israel, the RNC also ignored another time-honored practice, one that bars administration officials from speaking at nominating conventions, in order to separate official business from politics.
Another scheduled speaker, Mary Ann Mendoza, an “Angel Mom” who was scheduled to describe her son’s death at the hands of a drunken driver who was undocumented and praise the president’s crackdown on immigration, was cut from the lineup after she retweeted an anti-Semitic thread from a QAnon conspiracy theorist suggesting a world domination plot by Jews.
And Nicholas Sandmann, the MAGA-hat-wearing Kentucky high schooler whose stare-down with a group of Native Americans on the National Mall last year went viral, presented his story as one of victimization by the mainstream media and “cancel culture” after receiving settlements in two defamation lawsuits this year.
“Looking back now, how could I possibly have imagined that the simple act of putting on that red hat would unleash the hate from the left and make myself the target of network and cable news networks, nationwide?” Sandmann said in a taped video.